Record rainfall recorded at Juneau last year, but nothing special about Wrangell's wetness

Juneau saw record-breaking levels of rainfall in 2022, but National Weather Service measurements and the observations of local amateur meteorologist Bill Messmer suggest that Wrangell was spared the worst of the deluge.

Juneau's 2022 precipitation totaled 88.31 inches according to measurements taken at the airport. This was three inches wetter than the previous record set in 1991.

The National Weather Service hasn't recorded official stats for Wrangell precipitation in years, leaving the measuring task to curious locals without official government equipment or protocols.

According to the data that Messmer has been collecting in Wrangell since 1984, the community saw average amounts of precipitation in 2022, just over 95 inches of rain and melted snow. The wettest month was October, 18.01 inches, and the driest was April, 2.39 inches, which is also in keeping with yearly trends.

The wettest year in Messmer's records was 1987, at 134.17 inches, and the driest was only five years ago, in 2018, at 56.38 inches.

The variation between Juneau's weather patterns and Wrangell's is typical for Southeast, according to a climate guide compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Juneau. "Climatic variation across Southeast (is) caused by its complex geography," the guide states. Southeast's intricate arrangement of mountains and waterways means that Skagway receives an average rainfall of 2 inches each August while Yakutat, 150 miles due west, receives an average of 14 inches the same month.

The region is filled with "localized climatologies," explained Juneau meteorologist Sean Jones. "Because of the topography, you can have areas that are very sheltered." For example, the record of 88.31 inches that was recorded at the Juneau airport differs substantially from the city's average annual downtown rainfall, which is between 100 and 110 inches.

Similarly, rainfall recorded at the Wrangell airport automated weather observing station differs from Messmer's - 51.87 inches in 2022 and 71.71 inches on average since 1918.

Not to be outshined by Juneau, Ketchikan, which has a tourist-attraction rain gauge downtown, measured just under 160 inches of precipitation last year, slightly above normal.

According to Rick Fritsch, lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Juneau, the town has been trending wetter, though it is difficult to verify the extent to which recent weather patterns are related to climate change.

"Although 2022 was a record wet year, you cannot contribute one record wet year to climate change," he told the Juneau Empire. "Based on the past 20 years, the wettest years recorded have been dominated by the years since the turn of the century - so there might be a signal here, or a trend that could be evidence of the influences of climate change."

Since installing his rain gauge, Messmer has learned firsthand how the geography of a place can influence the amount of rain it receives. He installed his rain gauge to settle an argument with his friend, Dick Crockett, in the 1980s. Messmer, who lived downtown and Crockett, who lived by the 6-Mile sawmill, had different opinions about Wrangell's annual rainfall levels.

Crockett "was a fellow that I worked with and he lived out by the mill," recalled Messmer. "We always argued about the rain because it was so much different. That's what started it. He's long gone but I kept it up."

By comparing the results of their rain gauges, Messmer and Crockett found that the area near the mill gets a lot more rain than downtown. "The hill ... stops the clouds and catches the rain," said Messmer. His gauge is located near Mount Dewey and the schools, meaning its rainfall readings are more reflective of the weather patterns that in-town residents experience.


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